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RED-BLUE GAME: New season, new skills

Chris Coduto/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Junior center Kirk Walters goes to the hoops over a UCLA defender during last season’s win over the Bruins. Walters could start for the Red Team in tonight’s Red-Blue Game in McKale Center.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 3, 2005
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Cats hope practice pays off as position battles abound

After slightly more than two weeks of practices, the No. 9 Arizona men’s basketball team is set to unveil its fast breaks, its pressure defense and a few entries to the highlight reel in the Pepsi Red-Blue Game tonight at 7 in McKale Center.

For many of the players, it’s about time.

“We’re ready to get some games going. We’ve had too much practice, six days a week,” said junior center Kirk Walters. “We’re all prepared, and we’re ready to get the season going.”

The Red team will feature a team of seniors and juniors, plus sophomore guard Jesus Verdejo, pitted against the Blue team, which will has only sophomores and freshmen.

Fifth-year senior Isaiah Fox, playing his last season, said thoughts of the game brought back memories.

“I was thinking about it all last night,” he said. “It’s going to be a real intense Red-Blue Game. I remember my junior year — me and (former center) Channing (Frye) went up against each other. All the guys before the game were taking shots at each other, saying whose team is going to win. You know it’s going to be like that this year.”

Position battles have already begun in practice, but tonight’s intrasquad scrimmage will offer even more of an opportunity for players to distinguish themselves from the pack.

Senior forward Hassan Adams, junior point guard Mustafa Shakur and junior forward Ivan Radenovic are all but set as starters for the Red team, but injuries to guards Chris Rodgers and Jawann McClellan have left a hole at shooting guard for the time being.

Sophomore guard Daniel Dillon and McClellan will lead the Blue Team, along with freshmen wings J.P. Prince and Marcus Williams.

Williams, who stands 6-foot-7, can fill multiple roles on the court and has already impressed his teammates with his composure.

“Marcus can really shoot the ball, but one thing I like that he does well is you know he’s going to make the extra pass and not get too out of control,” Shakur said.

Fox joins junior center Kirk Walters on the Red team’s frontcourt, while redshirt freshman forward Mohamed Tangara stands as their main competition with the Blue team.

“We go up against each other every day. It’s going to be like practice but a little bit harder,” Tangara said.

In last year’s game, first-round NBA draft pick and current New York Knicks center Frye threw down for 37 points, while current Atlanta Hawks guard Salim Stoudamire scored 24.

“We had seniors that were so good, but now it’s our opportunity to step up and play the way we’re accustomed to playing,” Shakur said.

Verdejo chimed in with 27 points, as Arizona fans got its first glimpse of the Puerto Rico native.

The Wildcats were split evenly by the coaching staff to create a competitive game, and the starters took on the bench players in the second half.

This year’s scrimmage will still be competitive, Williams said, even though the upperclassmen have the experience advantage.

“It’s going to be a game either way,” he said. “If you go starters versus the rest of the team, it’s going to be a game.”

Freshman forward Fendi Onobun, who will play with the Blue team, said the game will be a chance to build on the progress he made during McKale Madness three weeks ago.

“I’ll get an opportunity to get used to the crowd, the atmosphere, and just what it’s going to be like on game day,” he said. “This being my first year, I haven’t really played in front of thousands of people before. … I’m excited, and I just can’t wait to showcase what I have to offer.”

While the game should be competitive, the outcome is already set. The Wildcats will win.

“I’ve been waiting for (this season for) so many years,” Williams said. “We’re all going to be excited to come in and give the fans a taste of what they’re going to be seeing.”

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